Background Switcher (Hidden)

Garrett Makes a Home

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I can't tell you how fabulous it is to be enjoying our fourth full day (by the time you read this, a full week) of Garrett. All I can do is show you. Every time I see him my heart leaps. It's like new love. There's something about his colors that make all my happy neurons fire at once. It's enough that he's beautiful, but he's so funny and cute, too, so inquisitive...I've been letting myself think that Charlie's come back to keep me company. 

It doesn't hurt to think that. I miss Charlie, my sweet little green goofball, every single day. And having a bird around again, even if he's flying free outside, helps fill that hole just a little bit.

Garrett is so bright, so cleanly marked, so outlandishly unexpected among the grays, browns, olives and occasional blues of winter.
I still think someone left a toy on the deck railing when I see him decorating it.

You know, one of those toys that squawks when you squeeze it.  The resemblance is rather apt. Garrett's  CHUBBEH.

  Zick being Zick, I began to worry the second night of Garrett's stay where he would sleep. I would gladly give him Charlie's climate-controlled aviary. I get so attached, I forget that woodpeckers are fully capable of making their own homes.  

So Garrett is sitting in the mulberry tree just outside the studio window on a gloomy afternoon and I'm staring at him and he launches off in a fanfare of black, white and red but I can tell by the way he's braking he's not going far. I run to the next window with my camera and get there just in time to see him do this:

He's taken up residence in a broken birch stub just off the back corner of our house! These were the first gray birches we planted on moving here in 1992. Of course, being birches and host to every insect and fungus on the planet, they're dead now. But we did not cut them down.  We let them naturally deliquesce. And if you are looking up that word right now, know it is one of my favorites. Ever.

One trunk bit now lies on the back deck railing, serving as Garrett's Zick Dough feeder. And the one still standing is his bedroom. Awwww!

I was not the only person who noticed him going into the cavity for the first time. Three Carolina chickadees began scolding like mad, their dee dee dee’s reaching a crescendo each time Garrett's head popped out of the hole.  Perhaps the night roost had changed hands and was now chickadee property. We have a surfeit of chickadees this year, probably thanks to the fact that our backyard pair fledged NINE from a faux birchbark Gilbertson house not 20 feet away. (With a little help from me; I fostered three orphans into an existing brood of six).

Tough tits, chickadees. This is my house now.

 Before long his crimson head popped out and then he disappeared again, coming back up with a bill full of punky birch wood!

Garrett was excavating, making himself a home. This cavity, I knew, had been the night roost for a downy woodpecker last fall. Nothing quite like having a downy woodpecker almost pith you when you peek into a mystery cavity right at eye level…you don’t forget that.

Ptoo!! The wind carried his sawdust away.

 Up and back he went, bringing the fill out and scattering it with a quick shake of his head.


I'm standing atop a desk in the studio, shooting through glass, loving every second of The Garrett Show. I spent the entire MLK day Monday, dawn to dark, documenting his every move. One could do worse than be a woodpecker documentarian; one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Finally, he was done. He squiggled out of the rather tight space.

Enh! Enh! Too much PB and lard...

and perched for a long time, looking fondly at his new house. Red-headed woodpeckers are at once the flashiest and most phlegmatic of woodpeckers, sitting for long periods in one spot. Garrett spends a good portion of his day in just this position, staring into his boudoir.

It is a fine house, and you are a fine bird. I see you feel welcome here. That was our intent.

Stick with people who let dead wood stand in the yard until it falls down by itself, who think it has its own beauty. Who know just what a woodpecker likes. 


Enh! Enh! Too much PB and lard...

YOU are priceless Julie. Garrett is the most beautiful yard bird I've ever seen! I can't take my eyes off him. Like you, I'd spend my days running from window to window and fret if I lost sight of him.

Garrett?? Is it just me? Lately I have been hearing quite a few people naming pets "people names". Wait a minute, the girl that named him...Phoebe! People named after birds-birds named after people.Now I understand why Lebron got out of Ohio!:)

It seems Garrett has decided your place is worthy of calling it home. Possibly he and a lady friend will nest and give you many of those beautiful babies. I am always amazed at nature and the beautiful creatures that do the funniest things. Time to maybe put out a little chickadee house?

This is a wonderful and unique post. I've never seen a woodpecker make and inspect its home. Thank you for taking the time to take pictures and share.

Your joy just leaps off the page... and perks us all up! Great start to a dull gray Sunday morning here.

Julie, Thanks so much for this post. I've been following the Garrett story from the beginning and I can't tell you how pleased I am that he's taken up residence right there in your bird sanctuary!!!! (BTW - why the name Garrett - I think I missed that explanation.) Makes my heart smile. I love the photo of him going into the hole and the one of him spreading the sawdust with a shake of his head. How could he leave such a place when he's discovered Zick Dough?!? I'd move right in too if I was a bird. Thanks again!!!!

Julie, I love that guy/gal. Thanks for sharing. Bill must be nutty over his fave bird taking up residence right there with y'all! Cheers! -Katie F.

I am so grateful for you & your writing about nature. This post is so beautiful & brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Oh, a wonderful post, Julie. I just had to rehome my beloved Pionus parrot of 8.5 years due to health issues that preclude me from having any more pet birds. I began recently taking more photos of birds outdoors and you have inspired me to keep at it. I've added your blog feed to my "Newsrack."

What a truly great series of photos. Garrett really has decided to stay. Oh the absolute joy of it.

Deliquesce is one of Roger's favorite words too! It's something that some mushrooms do as well!

LOVE the ptoo...and accompanying photos!

Magical post and am so glad he is staying. I think the ghost of Ruby told him this is the place to be (and to be careful of the windows).

I also share the same sense of exhilaration when I see a red hooded woodpecker. We have a few in our neighborhood. There is something that they will do every once in a while that just tickles me and I will just shake my head. It usually happens in the early morning hours and I will hear a metallic hammering noise. I think they mistakenly go after the utility poles, which can't be good. Eventually, the metallic hammering noise will stop, but it's just so interesting that they don't stop after the first two or three pecks on metal. Really, that has to hurt. Thanks for sharing the great photos!

I can't help but think that Garrett's presence is some kind of benediction. Somebody up there likes you.

Thank you for your (somewhat obsessive-compulsive lol!) documenting of Garrett-World. And "deliquesce". Just what this OCD, ADHD birder needed on this sunless, sleepy Sunday. I get the worry about housing, the thoughts of Charlie, the whole amazing thing.

Posted by Amy Girten January 22, 2012 at 4:17 PM

I'm fascinated and filled with joy to see Garrett living well at Zickland. Bless his sweet heart. Your appreciation is absolutely wonderful!

Years ago, when I was first hearing your radio essays on NPR you nearly made me cry over your Cash For Clunkers story and now you are doing it with a piece of dead birch and this dazzling fellow. Thanks for your word-craft and, of course, for spending an entire day documenting so we could vicariously live it too.

LOL, what a wonderful documentary. I hope Garett gets the chance to bring up a family in his carefully modelled home. And that you will get the chance to make another documentary. (I'm sorry about your Charlie.)

I've posted woodpecker family photos over at my blog
and someone sent me over here to look at yours. Our Greater Spotted Woodpeckers don't wear red balaclava's and aren't as relaxed as your Garrett is. I had to lie belly down on the grass of a golf course, risking my life because I wasn't wearing a helmet, with the golfers highly surprised about the new obstacle, to get my shots. The things we do...

Too much PB and lard...
Reminds me of Pooh Bear getting stuck in his honey tree hole.

A pair of red-headeds tried to nest in a spindly little tree in my tiny woodlot (near Mt. Gilead)a few years back. I never saw juveniles, so I don't think they were ever successful, and meanwhile their nesting tree has fallen. I haven't seen them since.

I had a slowly rotting cherry tree topped last fall to keep it off the house, but requested that the bottom part remain as it was. The tree guys thought I was nuts!

Be vigilant. Several years ago I watched a Red-headed woodpecker excavate a hole only to have a starling chase him and move in!

Posted by Anonymous January 23, 2012 at 10:02 AM
[Back to Top]